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Mystery surrounds 'extinct' petrel

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009
BACK AGAIN: Dr Brent Stephenson shows one of the live storm petrels captured in the Hauraki Gulf in late November. It has been released.

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The once presumed-extinct New Zealand storm petrel has again been captured in the Hauraki Gulf, but its breeding site remains a mystery.

A team including Department of Conservation staff and scientists, funded jointly by DOC and a grant from National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, caught three birds during October and early November.

This brings to seven the number of birds captured since the petrel was rediscovered off the coast of Whitianga in January 2003.

Ornithologist Dr Brent Stephenson, who snared two birds with one shot using a custom-made net gun, said the moment was unforgettable.

"It’s not every day you get to hold a seabird that for 150 years was thought to be extinct, let alone hold two," he says.

None of the captured birds showed signs of breeding, so the birds were released without attaching transmitters, Dr Stephenson says. The transmitters are used to track the birds to discover where they are breeding.

DNA from the birds will also be compared with that taken from skins from New Zealand storm petrels caught in the 1800s. DOC officer Karen Baird said it was thought the petrels might be breeding on islands where rodents had been eradicated, such as the Mokohinau islands.

"One of the theories is that the birds survived in very low numbers on an island where rats were present, and once the rats were removed the birds have been quietly building up in numbers until they began to be noticed several years ago," she says.

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